Truth Be Told

Signed copies of the book I co-authored with Soong-Chan Rah, "Unsettling Truths - The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery" are available from my website:

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Honor of the Navajo Code Talkers and the Shame of President Donald J. Trump

I am ashamed of President Donald J. Trump.

On Monday, November 27, at an event honoring the Navajo Code Talkers, President Trump took the name of a well-respected and loved historic figure from the Native community, Pocahontas, and used it as a racial slur in his ongoing and adolescent attacks on U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Let me repeat that, in a speech meant to honor an incredible group of men, who not only used their sacred language to help the United States of America win a war, but many of whom are also boarding school survivors, who as young children endured the pain of having the US Government literally attempt to beat their language out of them in an effort to "kill the Indian to save the man." These men endured those beatings. They held on to their language. And less than a decade later they used that language to save the United States of America. And President Trump could not muster the self-control to hold his tongue long enough to honor their service.

On top of that, it is well a known fact that Donald Trump considers Andrew Jackson to be one of his heroes. On March 15, 2017, President Trump visited the Hermitage and, in honor of Jacksons 250th birthday, laid a wreath at his tomb. In his speech commemorating the occasion, President Trump referred to our seventh President as "the very great Andrew Jackson...[who] was one of our great Presidents." And he concluded his speech by thanking Andrew Jackson for his service and committing to build on his legacy. 

But Andrew Jackson was a slave owner and his legacy as President was the ethnic cleansing and removal of American Indians.  President Jackson pushed for and signed the Indian Removal Act. This was the act which allowed the US Army, in practice, to forcibly remove native tribes from lands in the east to empty lands further in the west. This resulted in the Trail of Tears for the Choctaw, the Chickasaw and the Cherokee, as well as the Long Walk for the Navajo and the Pueblo. All told, about a dozen tribes experienced forced relocation due to the Indian Removal Act and tens of thousands of native people died as a direct result of this Act. At the Hermitage, President Trump attempted to dismiss this horrific history by calling Andrew Jackson “a product of his time.” That explanation may work to excuse an elderly grandparent who makes a racially insensitive remark at a dinner party. But it does not excuse a US President who knowingly and intentionally enacted a policy of removal and ethnic cleansing against an entire race of people.

And if you look at the picture of President Trump standing with the Navajo Code Talkers in the Oval Office, you can see very clearly in the background a portrait of Andrew Jackson.

I am ashamed of President Donald J. Trump.

The Long Walk occurred in the early 1860s. That is a mere 60 to 70 years before these Code Talkers were born. It was their grandparents whose crops, livestock and homes the US army destroyed as they rounded up the Navajo people to forcibly march us to Fort Sumner. It was their great-grandparents who the soldiers shot along the way. It was their elders who died of exhaustion, exposure, malnutrition and other unspeakable war crimes as the United States of America worked tirelessly to complete its self-proclaimed manifest destiny. The amount of pain, suffering, torture and dehumanization that the men who stood before President Trump endured, not for their country, but by their country, is beyond imagination.

And President Donald J. Trump could not hold his tongue. He could not find the courtesy to conduct the ceremony in a different location beyond the genocidal gaze of the seventh President of the United States. And he could not control his incessant need to keep the spotlight on himself, no matter what the context, or who his audience.

President Trump’s words and actions clearly demonstrated that he does not honor the immense sacrifice and incredible service of the Navajo Code Talkers.

I am not primarily angry, nor am I foremost disappointed, for both of those emotions would require me to have higher expectations of President Trump. No, I am ashamed. Ashamed that the United States of America has a President who conducts himself as a man who has no honor, no self-respect, and no relatives.

Mark Charles